Way back in 2018, Oliver Elf Army decided to incorporate a cover of I Will Keep Your Ghost’s song “Sleep” into their set for that year’s Fisherman’s Village Music Festival. Like most everyone else in town, OEA was (and is) enamored of the Bryan Bradley and Doug Evans’ long-running electric/electronic project (they welcomed Sarah Feinberg of TELLERS into their ranks in 2018). Bradley was working at a bar down the street from the show but got to see a poor phone recording of the performance, but when OEA played the song again at IWKYG’s basement house show for the release of their EP Options, he “knew we had to properly release that somehow.”
During the course of recording the track that summer Bradley asked around as to whether any other local acts wanted to contribute, and before he knew it, an album’s worth of material, well, materialized in the form of four remixes of songs from Options and two outright cover versions. Versions is not just a re-imagining of that EP by its contributors. It is also a window into the myriad of creative possibilities of music.
Versions begins with Sphyramid’s cover of “Distance,” and it showcases this EDM mix master’s ability to create intriguing justapositions between the vocals and the music as well as his impeccable sense of flow. He selects just a few lyrics from the original tune and runs them through their paces, highlighting Bradley’s earthy, hearty tone and Feinberg’s powerful pipes.
Seattle’s The Animals at Night eschews vocals entirely on his take of “Gold Leaf,” preferring instead to create a completely instrumental retelling/restructuring of the song’s story. It doesn’t stray too much from the original; it’s tweaked just enough to keep things interesting.
Mary Adams of Oliver Elf Army told us that the goal for their cover of “Sleep” was to “mope things up” a bit, never mind that the original version of “Sleep” is in no way a peppy song. Of course they succeed anyway, and not only is their version more dirgey, it’s just plain spookier and heavier. It features an outro with a growling bass that has you believing that the “violent dreams” alluded in the lyrics are, in fact, real. This is the first OEA recording featuring Henry J. Yarsinske on bass, and if this is any indication, his inclusion on the band’s upcoming releases is gonna be vital.
Leava’s version of “More Fiction” is wonderfully minimalist. Simon Nicol masterfully excavates a spare soundscape that highlights guitar riffs that lay buried deep in the original song, allowing them to breathe and be heard. He also plays with Feinberg’s vocal at the end of the track, and it’s creepy and cool to hear her metallicized voice wind down to the gasp for air that closes his experiment.
NODRA X NAIL HOUSES’ remix of “Gold Leaf” is miles away from Aan’s version. The song maintains much of the lyrical structure but drops this chassis into a musical landscape that is more machine than man. Or is it? NODRA’s Ryan Alexander and Nail Houses’ Christian Smith manipulated vocal tracks from “Gold Leaf” to create synth sounds, The two were given the option of each creating their own cover but decided to work in tandem on the track, though Alexander says “we used one of Chris’ drafts as the core of the thing, so he deserves some extra credit here.” The result is an infectious mix that is contains the hallmarks of all three projects.
After this aural assault comes Alex Johnston’s gorgeous cover of “1964” to close the album out. Johnston’s voice and piano (and a smidge of atmospherics) are all it takes to create a heart-wrenching, fragile piece. The vocal is especially impassioned and ratchets “1964,” a song about a relationship breaking apart, up another defcon or two in the emotional department. It’s completely fabulous. Mary Adams noted that Johnston has a habit of recording covers of artists’ songs that he loves (such as OEA’s “Black Nikes”) and then sending them to the artists. If this is the caliber of love letter that he creates, we’d definitely like to hear more.
Alexander Vincini remixed the cover art from Options for Versions, and its cut-and-paste collages are the perfect metaphor for the album. In our review of the previous EP, we stated that “if Options is a harbringer, it is one of beauty through catharsis.” Versions creates beauty through collaboration and imagination, and is a thoughtful and well-executed re-up of one of our favorite albums of 2018.